Be Magnanimous

Latin Mass: 5th Sunday of Easter
Beloved in Jesus Christ, sometimes it will be said of a person, ‘Oh that one: he’s forever complaining.’ Complaining is poison to the Christian life; it is the perfect way to kill the Spirit of Christ and lead ourselves and everyone away from God.
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Complaining is often related to self-pity, feeling sorry for oneself. ‘I have too much homework.’ ‘I won’t have enough time to do this job.’ In these cases, we allow ourselves to be discouraged by our situation, and so we complain. But the great St. Paul, who went through so many troubles, he says: “Do everything without complaining.'[i]
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Of course there are difficult situations; we are stymied in some way from the path we desire. But it isn’t this which leads to complaining and self-pity, it’s HOW WE SEE the situation. St. Alphonsus says: ‘the crosses that God sends you are misfortunes, because you make them misfortunes.
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The true Christian lives in reality more than anyone else. He sees the real-life situation of what God has given him, today, and he says, ‘ok Lord,’ and then he proceeds to make something good out of it.
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One of my favorite movies is called ‘National Velvet;’ there, a little girl, against all odds, sets her mind on winning the Grand National Horse Race; time and again she meets obstacles. Does she say, ‘oh well, now there is nothing I can do.’ ‘Woe is me,’ everyone is against me.’ no. She accepts the situation as it is, and then gives her best to make something out of it.
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Even the secular world can teach us something here. In Steven Covey’s book[ii] ‘The 7 habits for highly effective people,’ he says that some people allow their environment to control them. If the weather is bad they feel down. If people treat them badly, they become defensive. They are driven by their feelings, and they blame everything on their circumstances.
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Sulking and self-pity and endless complaining, this is related to the vice called pusillanimity; it means ‘smallness of soul.’ The pusillanimous person fears leaving his comfort-zone, shies always from what is noble and out of fear, always takes the path of least resistance. It is cowardly. Father Urteaga[iii] says, only cowards sit home and listen to reports of what others are doing: they are spectators who watch the world go by.
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St. Thomas Aquinas says, people often have smallness of soul because they underestimate the ability God has given them. Pride makes them fear failure, afraid that they might not be successful and ‘what would people say.’ ‘Oh, I am really not qualified to do that, ask someone else.’ So they take refuge in false humility.
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If we allow our feelings or others to discourage us, it is because we have empowered them to do so. ‘You are always so messy.’ ‘You are never able to finish.’ ‘This is so easy, why can’t you get it?’ Others can make us feel useless, but if the words of others control our actions, it’s because we have empowered them to do so.
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So what do we do? What is needed here is a special virtue, and this virtue is called magnanimity. St. Thomas Aquinas[iv] says magnanimity is the stretching forth of the mind to great things.’ Magnanimity[v] is also called ‘big-heartedness;’ and it is part of the virtue of courage.[vi] To be magnanimous or ‘big-hearted,’ is to see in every situation, an opportunity to do something great, something worthwhile.
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The magnanimous person shoos away gossip and pettiness as if they were flies. If co-workers say how useless it is to work on this project when the boss is not supportive – well – the magnanimous person dismisses that self-pity and sets his mind on working with what is available; he builds-up everyone and proceeds with confidence to achieve something. If a relative is rude or deceitful the magnanimous person is above the fray, and kindly thanks him for visiting.
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Magnanimity CAN be lived in a quiet way. It can mean doing ordinary things well, even difficult things with confidence. How can we have confidence? Put some faith in God! Jesus says today, ‘if you ask the Father anything in My Name, he will give it to you. Ask, and you shall receive.’ The courage to try something hard is found in God’s grace, which will bless our every effort.
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Now there are those who will always say, ‘Oh, that’s not my job.’ Some minor thing could be taken care of, a form filled out, a spill wiped up, helping out a customer – ‘sorry, it’s not my job.’ This is small-mindedness. The magnanimous person takes care of it without complaint; his interests do not include being petty or the blame-game, and he is not concerned with who gets the credit.
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‘The world is evil’ ‘Things are so bad, the end of the world must be near.’ ‘ok.’ ‘ok says the big-hearted person, maybe the world WILL end soon, but in the meantime, let’s try to accomplish something, try to make something of it.’ – This is a bigger, more hopeful vision; not the small-minded view.
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The magnanimous person possesses the virtue of courage. Courage to step forward and act, giving no thought to failure or to problems. Obstacles are challenges that can be resolved. What is noble is to be done, even if it is difficult. The small-minded person is always weighing the cost, how much trouble he’ll have to be put through. The big-hearted person is driven by what is important, not by what it will cost him. As St. James says: ‘Be ye DOERS of the word and not hearers only!’ Be ye doers!
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We hear some people speak as if they have no power over their own lives: ‘I’m no good at fixing things, that’s just the way I am, what use is it?’ ‘I would like to do that, if only I had more time.’ ‘I could get a good job, if only I had a degree.’ IF, IF, IF – The magnanimous person dismisses ‘IF’s, and says: ‘Well, what do we have to work with, let’s make something with it, we can succeed.’
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To have a hopeful and energetic heart however, one must be living a good life, following Christ. St. Thomas says, ‘Nothing makes a person more a coward, than a wicked life.’ Sin makes life very narrow. People who are not living the life of Christ have their head down to the ground like a chicken. But the big-hearted person living in Christ, has a freshness, and soars high in the air, and sees the whole, wide, horizon. ‘In Christ, I can do all things in he who strengthens me,’ says the Apostle.
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Complainers and those full of self-pity lead a miserable life. ‘I could be happy if only my house was paid off’ ‘If only I had a more patient husband.’ ‘If I could just have more time to myself, I could be happy.’ We can ‘IF’ ourselves to our death-bed waiting for happiness. Jesus is calling us not to excuses, but to magnanimity, to greatness of heart.
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Jesus Christ has given us the best example; In his Passion he was treated with contempt and scorn, but he showed no complaint; his eyes were fixed on something greater.
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If Christ found any support during his Passion, it was his Mother who urged him on, who urged him to greatness. Let us too turn to Mary who is the Star that shines for us the way to great things. As St. Bonaventure says:[vii] ‘lift your eyes to that beautiful star, take courage, for she will guide you’ to the goal you seek.

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Entrusted to the prayers of St. Luke

 

[i] Philippians 2:14-15

[ii] 7 habits of highly effective people, p. 73-87

[iii] Saints in the World, p. 111

[iv] Summa, Pt. II-II, Q 129 on Magnanimity

[v] See also Edward Sri’s article ‘Called to Greatness: The Virtue of Magnanimity,’ online.

[vi] The Divine Pity, p. 105

[vii] Glories of Mary, p. 122

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